WRITER I SONGWRITER I MUSIC PRODUCER
An excerpt from the first book in a trilogy of new novels I've been writing since 2018
This is from Book 1: Love Cure Us
Beset by frontal lobe seizures and paranoid delusions, and after two suicide attempts, Nelly’s psychiatrist advises that assisted death in Geneva is the safest option for her. However, when she offers to donate her heart to terminally-ill Tim and they form a bond, her nightmare awakens to bright new realities and answers. Love Cure Us is the story of an affair of the heart that develops between two strangers when one must die so the other can live.
Book 2, Judging Us, is an origins story about Nelly’s parents—a Dublin lawyer becoming a judge and her music-producer mother who become embroiled in the criminal underworld. Book 3, Truth Free Us, follows Nelly in America and her efforts to expose her father’s new wife’s political corruption.
BOOK 1 Chapter 10
She paced the room, barely listening to Walter patronise her down the line, watching shadows pass through the gap under the door—the way she did in his office. He liked to encourage her to move about because being sedentary made her closed off and morose. She missed that stuffy room now; all his books, the comfy rugs, classy mahogany furniture, old tapestries depicting battles and a big globe that she liked to study. His walls of books were mostly psychology books, which she did not miss reading one bit.
“Walter, you’re patronising,” she kneaded her hands—a lot that year, “and patriarchal. You don’t like it when women are patronising. You don’t like it when the script is flipped one bit. Women have the torturous jobs, like being trapped in a house alone all day with needy, illiterate, selfish little drains who dumb us down and turn us into crazy people. Men get to be free, explore their dreams and imagination, to invent things and build the world. And what are we to you?” She sneered.
“Your right, Nelly.”
“I thought I just said don’t patronise me.” She showed him her gritted teeth. “Don’t talk to me like I’m irrational and illogical. I really don’t need therapy, I come because Gran asked me to. I’m figuring myself out like everyone else my age. Women are on new ground; we’ve joined the game you’ve been running for years.”
She tutted. “Do you remember when we talked about male suicide like I should care? I think it’s hard getting a taste of your own medicine and seeing how ugly it is when women stop being the responsible ones and fuck around. It’s hard getting knocked off your perch by us, too. It’s impossible for some men to accept women were marginalised and told they were not as bright.”
He did the fingers thing, pressing the tips together to form a church roof. “Sit Nelly, this is all distraction from the real problem.”
“The death of your parents,” she said, mocking his serious tone of voice and spun the large globe. “Undoubtedly.”
“You can tackle the bigger problems later.”
She rolled her eyes and slammed her palm down on Tajikistan. “I told you, I hated Mam and I loved Dad, but he changed and I felt like I was losing him before they died… if they actually died.” She sighed. “Sorry, I mean, I fought hard to keep them. Mam was angry; she wanted a life and not me.” She slumped into a chair. “Look, Walter, I’ve accept they’re dead, I did years ago. I’ve moved on, really, and I want to tackle the big problems.”
“You still believe they’re alive.”
“I don’t, I—okay I do sometimes but I know I’m being irrational. Do you really think it’s likely I’ll never have paranoia again if I keep going over it.”
“Talking it through, and not in your head, will make you better.”
She analysed the analyser. He had a good bit of Mediterranean heritage in him. Her thoughts outside of his office often drifted to his greying curly hair, the deep lines in his dark skin, his big black eyes—way too emotional and too invested in her to be just her shrink.
Despite all his books and framed degrees, he wasn’t smart. He had the qualities of being an intellectual but he was a people pleaser and a victim beneath his posing—a whinger as Gran used to say, and his own form of avoiding his issues made a cat of her; knocking his things onto the floor and acting confused. Nobody should be treated this way, as he saw fit, a man lesser than her with his demeaning nod and smile. His patience for craziness was infinite, studying her like she was some rare species of garden weed.
Preeningly perched on a piece of his pragmatic furniture she did a quiet job on him, playfully clawing at the holes in his psychotherapy. She couldn’t allow anyone inside her, raping her mind. She used the back of her hand to wipe her whiskers in lieu of tears that might have sprung free if she hadn’t felt so freed already.
“In avoiding your pain, you’re shutting yourself off from who you are,” he said.
“That’s such bullshit, Walter. I have an instinct for what’s right for me and I’ve grown out of this… I came to say—” His eyes seemed to tremble with feeling. “What the fuck is wrong with you? I’m just your patient.”
“You risk a fixable problem turning into a long-term illness.”
Meow. Be careful I have claws.
Before she would leave him frustrated and confused, she noted another book on his shelf. Some of them were in the library, others she had found online.
“I just feel now that shrinks try to make you into a victim of circumstance,” she said, and ran her finger across the spines of his old leather books near the door. “What do you know about love? I don’t see any books on it here. Did you know that tenderness cures mental pain? Why did all those old men believe that thinking was the answer?”
“Because they deal in the topic of mental illness.”
“I feel a lot better recently. Did you notice I said ‘feel’ and not ‘think’?”
“Good. How are your feelings?”
“Calmer. Not because of you, because of Leon.”
“You’re seeing him still. I don’t think it’s a good idea. Your separation anxiety must be addressed, properly, before you become seriously involved with anyone.”
She tutted. “I’m not nine, I’m eighteen. I came to tell you I’m moving to Biarritz for good.” His eyes flickered like candles starved of oxygen. “I’ve begun to feel this isn’t healthy for either of us; I’ve become a sick perversion for you.”
He leaned forwards, shoulders raised to his ears, fists balled then hands like dead fish on the desk. “You may attach yourself to this boy.”
“I have Gran, I won’t.”
His eyes said all his work would be in vain, which amused her. “My parents’ death is not the problem anymore; seeing you is.” What he thought now no longer mattered. She was already dreaming of Biarritz, were she felt well and sane. “You’re right, I suppose, I may attach some separation anxiety onto Leon.” She waved a hand and went to the globe and spun it and hovered a finger over the countries flying by and jabbed it down with grinning optimism, it stopped on the Sahara. “Just great.” She shot him a hateful look. “I can analyse myself.”
“Leave the psychoanalysis to me. Tell me how you feel about this boy.”
“I feel like I’m going around in circles here. I feel like… I feel like he’s going to die somehow. It’s my separation anxiety, right?”
He did the fingers thing, pushing the tips together until they went white. “He’s unlikely to die, Nelly.”
“You don’t know that.” She spun the globe and watched it slow and stop above the emptiness of the Pacific Ocean. “Why does everything make me feel like a disaster is inevitable? I feel like he will leave a hole in me bigger than the one my parents left? So I guess that means I haven’t completely buried them.” She pushed her knees together and bit her lip. “Um, what do I do? Should I pray or something?”
“Did you talk to them like I suggested?”
“They’re dead, Walter. Who’s the crazy one?” She rotated the globe back to Ireland. “Okay, so what like speak to them as if they can hear me?”
“I want you to try it.” His brown Mediterranean eyes flickered gold.
She skirted around his desk and sat on a corner. “Couldn’t you give me drugs?”
“I can but I don’t want to.”
“I barely notice myself with Leon, he gets me out of my head. Biarritz is so special, but I think I’ll need something for when I get like this.” As her thighs were a distraction for all but the dying, she got up and slumped into the leather chair and pulled her skirt over her knees. “The moment I started college my depression came back. I’m dropping out. Gran agreed. I want to spend this summer and every other with Leon. But I’m afraid it’ll swallow us, my depression, and I’ll be too much for him whenever I’m feeling so good like this. I haven’t called in a whole day, and I pretend like he hardly matters to me. I make him beg before I give him the love we both need. My body feels like I have a ton of books on my back, tell me what to do.” She knew he was trained not to tell her and sprung glances at his bookshelf. “I read that many young girl’s physical problems are psychosomatic, all in the head. Psychosomatic pain is still real, neurologically speaking.” She flashed at her thighs and back at him.
He shifted anxiously in his chair and interlocked his fingers. “Psychosomatic illnesses are real but some in my profession would disagree.”
“That infers a connection between the brain and the body beyond current understanding of it.” She pulled at her hair. “Why do you have Freud on your shelf?”
“He got some things right, certainly not his child sex theories.”
“All those books up there are just opinions. How do you know the root of all that thinking is not fundamentally wrong? Confirmation bias based on the perception and order of our reality? Can the ego ever fully be trusted and held at bay? Just one imperfection is enough to make the whole thing a rotted old house of cards.”
“Have you been reading psychology books?”
“Freud confused sex for simple physical exertion; the body’s search for a release to emotional pain.” She crossed her legs. “I’ve been reading those books in the library, yes. I needed to know how you saw me. They’re interesting but need updating, women are far more complex and we suffer more than we let on. I think you get off on feeling superior over me, seeing me suffer.”
“I do not.” His eyes were glassier than ever.
She sighed long and heavily. “Why are you so sure about your education?”
“I’m not so sure, everything evolves.” He stammered.
“It must, right?”
“What do you mean?”
“If it doesn’t, what happens, Walter? What happens when we stop, do we go backwards?” She sneered. “Do we rot if we stop? I don’t know. I need to know. A lot of new things in the past are now defunct, that’s all I know, so I’m keeping my mind open. So far you seem to be trying to fit me and my issues into a hypothesis based on the teaching in those books.”
“You won’t be honest with me. If you told me—” He sighed, took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “So you believe you cannot be fixed by a book. Okay then, tell me what I should do for you, Nelly?”
“I can’t explain because I’m only eighteen, my frontal lobes aren’t properly formed yet. That’s what you were supposed to have done for me?”
He sighed. “I’m sorry, I failed then.”
“You didn’t, you’re too bookish.” She drummed her fingers on the armrest. “I need you to see everything with love… and the regular necessity for physical exertion. Talk, talk, talk, Walter, that’s all you want from me. I need to rewire my brain?”
“By breaking all those old connections.”
“Please, just let me do the psychoanalysis.”
She sighed and went to the window and gazed at his botanical garden. “I saw a gardener pulling up big old weeds today and thought there’s no point raking though shit if your garden is full of it. You can’t hide the smell by planting flowers. Sometimes it’s better to sell the place and start new somewhere else.” She stared at him, and he rubbed his eyes. “Maybe you should take a break there, Walter.”
“Nelly…” He looked weary.
“What is that draws you to this job?”
He put his glasses back on and pressed his dam fingers together. “I love what I do.”
She studied some algae growing between the window frame and glass. “I feel like I’m a perverse fascination for you, like you get off on cracking open my head. I’m just a science experiment. Do you know what I think? You’re avoiding your shit by getting lost in mine, like Freud did. He was gay, did you know that? And probably a pedo.”
“I do this to help you.” His eyebrows arched into a V. “And I don’t charge the full amount because your grandmother came to me in confidence.”
“If you’re even a shrink.” She rubbed away some algae and gazed at the carp in the pond beneath the window.
“So you do still think I’m being used by a criminal gang to get to you? I thought you gave up that fantasy.”
“Why did you become a shrink? Why not, I dunno, a PE teacher?”
“Do you think I’d have been better off as a PE teacher?”
“It’s as good as a shrink.”
He chuckled and his shoulders relaxed. “Maybe you should write a paper on this seeing as you’re so qualified in psychoanalysis now.”
She spun the chair. “I could but I’m not very good at thinking clearly. I think I’m wired differently; I’m wired for love and it doesn’t make sense to be wired that way, but still, I feel that it’s right.”
“Will you write all this down?”
“I need to escape my shit, as I said, not dive into it.”
“For me, and bring it to the next session.”
She sighed happily. “I’m serious, I came today to tell you I won’t be back. I don’t believe in therapy anymore. I came to see about getting some drugs in case this separation anxiety comes back with Leon.”
He pressed two fingers to his temple and shook his head. “Fine, I’ll write you a prescription.”
“Thank you. You did help a little. I think I’ve enough to get on with it.”
“I disagree. These affectations that people are after you will be problematic if left unaddressed.”
“I’ll deal with it. I’m going my way, sorry Walter.”
“What way is that, if you don’t mind telling me?”
“I did tell you: love.” She went to the door fixing the hem of her dress. “And physical exertion. Bye Walter.”
SHORT: DUCK’S STRUGGLE
My name is Duck, and I have a problem. Several, actually, but one worth telling you about. Its value lies in the idea that this problem is not unique to me and those with the same problem will benefit from a shared problem being a halved one (one in this case best forgotten about). As I said, I have several problems. Miniscule ones. A bag of rubbish I haul around due to accumulative avoidance, or The Accumulative Avoidance Problem. Hardly worth talking about… unless it bothers you. Which it may now as you’ve heard about it. The main problem, however, is something more pervasive and serious. I’ve started calling it my submarine of doom, or The Submarine of Doom Problem.
Let me explain:
So I start out life differently, as a bunny rabbit, actually, with imaginary sabre-tooth incisors hidden beneath fluffy white fur… retractable trainer fangs… and supernova eyes. Eve-ry-thing is going to be guuuu-reat!
I bounce around the place, and hence when a problem presents itself I bounce over it. The Bounce Problem I call it (which eventually matures into The Accumulative Avoidance Problem). Starting out along the proverbial Yellow Brick Road of life, I see a great river. A stony river. I dive in and can instantly swim because I’m bouncy and my forthright effort is innate. I soon evolve into a little fluffy yellow duck. Now I no longer have to avoid the more threatening land predators, and I’m smiling away to myself. Until rapids force my head down into swirling, sucking undercurrents. Never to be outdone, I float up and happily along until one day the water is gone.
I’m stuck on one of the aforementioned stones because I’m a duck afraid of the land. I sit there wondering what to do, staring at the lovely blue sky and the trees blooming and dying. I’m distracted by life; no longer part of it but an observer waiting for the rains.
This is where the problems manifest but are also tackled.
Sitting around is bad.
You foster problems like they’re your children.
Soon the rains come and the river begins to flow again, but you drive yourself towards the bank and find dry land. There, you decide that all that sitting around was good. You were tackling The Accumulative Avoidance Problem.
It feels like a time-out to look at where you’ve been, and you realise you’ve been bouncing rather than tackling internal problems in how you navigate life. So you tackle. You put your shoulder to problems and push. Obviously, you dislocate your shoulder because you’re not used to tackling problems. Never deterred, you bounce back into it and get injury after injury. However, you’re making a little progress. Sorting out piecemeal the multitude of inconsistencies and contradictions in your being. It’s slow going being a self-aware little duck. You don’t have the shine you once had but you’re on your way.
Except, you’re not.
You’re sitting there.
Bigger problems are accumulating:
This is when the aforementioned Submarine of Doom Problem arrives. With your belief that tackling problems is far better than accumulating them, you float into the river again, headlong towards the Submarine of Doom. But the Submarine of Doom is not an ordinary problem because it is directly related to the process of tackling problems. It is your belief that preventing problems is easier than accumulating them. You run towards problems when they are the very things you should run from. Grow back legs and evolve away from that shit.
I tackle now.
I evolve… through struggle.
I will not be outdone.
You notice other evolved little ducks on land, with scary feathers and fangs, tackling their Submarines of Doom. You get to thinking that if each other prevents the other’s problem, problem solved.
Your little rubbery legs propel you back onto land. Soon you grow big intimidating black feathers and get your FANGS back. With other toothy happy friends, you believe you have scared off all threats and problems.
The Accumulative Avoidance Problem, however, is as pervasive as any other problem here because you are a problem tackler now not tackling a problem. This niggles, especially when you’re with other evolved, unafraid ducks because they are avoiding, too. You begin to wonder what the Submarine of Doom is planning: hence you develop The Submarine of Impending Doom Problem. Moreover, you peer repetitively into the river to see it sitting there waiting for your return.
This is the life of someone that hasn’t realised most problems are created inside one’s head. Staying where one shouldn’t; to bunce; to return to a floating duck being forced to bow by rapids is ideologically flawed. One must stay on the bank where it’s safe. Right? But one cannot help feeling a pull to return to the rapids that once made one feel so weak and at sea. One wonders if one can fight the rapids. Shoulder the force.
One returns to the river. Rushes headlong and manifests psychologically a fluffy yellow duck form. Only this time, one sees just one problem: the conundrum of where does the river go and what problems will be encountered when one gets there?
Hence, The Submarine of Impending Doom appears above the water with a thermonuclear bomb armed and ready for the slightest hint of the end, or The Bitter End Problem.
as the river flows endlessly onward, the joy of tackling rapids with ease fills one with a life force that cannot be torpedoed; one is learning how to be a
Duck accepts The Accumulative Avoidance Problem, The Submarine of (Impending) Doom Problem and The Bitter End Problem. Duck is one with the world and oneself. Duck may be perpetually hungry, community-less and directionless, for now, but Duck has the immense feeling that one has conquered oneself.
Duck finds others on the river shouldering into rapids. They share joy.
Duck’s struggle comes to a meaningful
Duck has learned to
Duck’s internal quack does not create external
LISTEN TO 2 SHORT STORIES I WROTE, READ BY ME
Donnacha lives on the remote Irish island of Treoir.
Haunted by the memory of his institutionalised wife and failing at being
a surrogate father to his niece and nephew, he tries to find new
meaning by giving refuge to an African teen who has albinism.
In parts of Africa, people with albinism are considered magical and
witch doctors convince remote tribes they will be blessed with good luck
and wealth by drinking a broth made from the body parts of albinos.
This makes them a hunted people.
Dubliner, Jonah Odjinwahlia, has a world-changing scientific theory
and suffers from albinism. When his petty criminal of a father plans to
sell him to traffickers, he is given refuge on the island of Treoir. But
his arrival amongst the sheltered community sparks old superstitions.
Once Jonah goes missing, his benefactor, Donnacha, sets off on a
perilous trek across Tanzania to hunt for the witch doctor Jonah has
been sold to.
Set against a backdrop of conservatism and superstition, Treoir is
both a gripping plot and an exploration into cultural norms that span
the modern and third worlds, highlighting the arbitrary remedies we
create for our fragility and human nature—that can legitimise our
most abhorrent behaviours.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 12 October 2020
But, clearly needing more problems, he decides to help Jonah, an albino youth from Dublin, whose Tanzanian family are proposing to sell him to a witch-doctor. Jonah’s arrival demonstrates it’s not only Tanzanians who are superstitious about Albinism. The youth’s presence upsets the locals, and not only those who already have a problem with Donnacha.
The world on the island is clearly not as Donnacha sees it, and at the start I wanted to shake him shouting, Wake up! Like many drunks, he takes to the booze at the worst of times, making himself vulnerable to his enemies. This is a complex novel with many strands. The characters, especially Donnacha, are well drawn.
The claustrophobia of the closed community on the island is well realised and builds. When Jonah disappears, Donnacha has to make a tough decision. Fearing he has failed yet another person, he risks everything and sets off on an expedition to recover the youth.
The danger and threats build to a satisfying climax.